Camcorders for the Holidays

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That special season is upon us, and if you are looking for something different this year, instead of just rewrapping that same fruit cake that you’ve been shuttling back and forth for the last decade, might I recommend a camcorder? The beauty of camcorders is that, despite the camcorders themselves being highly technical items, operating a camcorder is so simple that any confirmed Luddite can operate one.

Home Movies

I think that spherical 360 video, as opposed to VR or AR, is really the new form of home movies. Point-and-shoot be darned, no need to point anymore. However, your results will be better if you do compose your frame. Some take 360 and stitch the image from two lenses together for a near-seamless image. Put the camera on a selfie stick and, with careful shooting, you can hide the stick. Of course, anything that gets too close may also disappear. Ricoh offers the Theta SC in colorful choices, shooting HD, as well as the Theta V that shoots in 4K. GoPRO has offers the GoPRo Fusion, which features two offset lenses and can capture in up to 5.2K resolution. Other systems, like the PIXPRO from Kodak, don’t quite give you 360 degrees but, then again, there is no need for stitching. To see your spherical video, you’ve got to view it with goggles, or with an appropriate viewer—YouTube, for example. Watch it over and over, and move your view around the image. It isn’t like going to the movies, and the edges can warp, but this isn’t for professional applications. This is fun, so put it up on the Internet, and don’t bother to have your friends over to your place to torture them watching your home movies—just send them the link. If you don’t want to buy a dedicated 360 Video camera, don’t worry, there are a bunch of smartphone adapters for 360-degree video for iOS, as well as Android.

Ricoh THETA V 360 4K Spherical VR Camera

PAL – Not Just for your European friends

File-based recording has basically rendered recording to tape extinct, and computer playback has blurred the lines between shooting at 60 Hz or 50 Hz (NTSC and PAL). This has removed many of the issues associated with shooting internationally using the same camera. So, what is the worry? Well, when you shoot in a country that runs at 50 Hz, with a camera that runs at 60 Hz, you can still run into issues. First, you are shooting about five extra frames per second, and that must be dealt with in the edit, though it isn’t especially difficult to do with today’s editing systems. However, you are more likely to run into flickering and/or color shifting lights when shooting on a US camera in a PAL country. Remember that almost all household florescent lights flicker at a rate dependent on the power from the mains, and shooting at 60 Hz, under 50 Hz lighting can cause flicker and unwanted color shift. Which means it is a better option to shoot on one of these PAL cameras and shoot without flicker or color shifts, which are far more difficult to deal with than the speed change.

JVC Everio GZ-RY980HEU Quad-Proof 4K Camcorder with 10x Optical Zoom

Speaking of Sound

For you sound-first types. ZOOM. Yeah, I don’t know why a sound-centric company would choose a name that coincides with the most often overused visual element of filmmaking, but there you have it. Zoom’s lineup of camcorders invests heavily in the audio-processing operation, unlike most cameras that focus on image, and give a small nod to audio. The Q2n and Q2n-4K are small and light, these camcorders are perfect for the musician who wants to capture their music spontaneously —both the audio and the visuals. For a more familiar form factor the Zoom Q4n and Q8 Handy Video Recorders capture at higher than HD resolution and record at up to 24-bit/96 KHz audio. Please note that the Q8 also takes Zoom microphone capsules.

Zoom Q8 Handy Video Recorder

Action Cameras

Action cameras are just about everywhere—don’t look now, but are you wearing one on your head? These cameras are so small and lightweight, you can easily wear an action camera head-mounted. GoPro is famous and has driven the industry. The HERO7 Black is its current flagship, and it is available by itself, or with accessories. While GoPro could easily have you covered, there are a few other compelling cameras to check out. Like the GoPro, but looking for interchangeable lenses? Let me introduce you to Back-Bone Gear and its Ribcage modifications that enable mounting M12 and C-mount lenses on the HERO5, HERO6, and MFT and C-mount lenses on the Sony RX0. Garmin has its VIRB Ultra 30 camera that tracks GPS performance data and, with the app, you can map your routes and stream live. SJCAM is a viable alternative in the action-camera world, with fourteen offerings in both HD and 4K. Yi Technology has eschewed HD entirely, with only 4K cameras. The camera housings support the same three-prong attachment as the GoPro, making sharing accessories between cameras a breeze, and there are eight offerings in 4K. Sony, well known for its professional cameras and camcorders, has been invested in action cameras for a few years, and offers a wide selection of cameras , including HD cameras, 4K cameras, and camera packages with wireless wrist controllers. Not to be forgotten is the Sony RX0 waterproof and shockproof camera, featuring a stacked sensor, recording HD internally, and capturing 4K to external devices through its HDMI port.

GoPro HERO7 Black

Camcorders

Generally, a camcorder has an integrated lens and recorder built into the camera. There are two basic classes of camcorders: Professional and Consumer. Professional camcorders were formerly these huge beasts, overbuilt, rugged, and heavy; used for news gathering or electronic production, they had removable zoom lenses. They were so heavy that you could only handhold them balanced on your shoulder or mounted on a tripod. Holding an ENG camcorder at arm’s length in front of you was close to impossible. Consumer camcorders, on the other hand, suffered from cost-cutting measures that made them light, but not so durable. However, with the advent of CCDs replacing tubes, and now CMOS sensors replacing CCDs, there is an opportunity to make professional camcorders smaller, lighter, and with a form factor closer to consumer camcorder than ENG camera. The lines between the two types have blurred and have had features interchanged. For the most part, professional camcorders accept XLR connections for audio, while consumer camcorders don’t accept external microphones, or if they do, only through an 1/8" jack with limited manual control. Some industrious companies have designed powered XLR adapters to control the audio levels that you feed to consumer camcorders manually, which may serve your needs.

JVC GY-HM170UA 4KCAM Compact Professional Camcorder with Top Handle Audio Unit

To Gift or not to Gift?

As far as gift giving, consumer camcorders and professional camcorders are fair game. Digital Cine, Studio and EFP, and Broadcast are the high-end cameras/camcorders in the B&H inventory, and giving some of these as a gift can easily be on a par with giving someone a car (many of them cost more than a new car).

Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K Digital Cinema Camera

Consumer

Canon’s Vixia HD lineup has been a hit for several years running, and the new Canon Vixia GX10 shoots 4K UHD and incorporates Dual-Pixel Autofocus first found on Canon’s Cinema EOS Digital Cine cameras. Panasonic has a variety of camcorders to choose from, but its “Twin Cams” offer either a second camera built into the flip-out LCD viewfinder door, or the ability to record footage from a smartphone or mobile device simultaneously while shooting with the camera. Some of the Twin Cams offer the option of both, and you can link to two or more cameras recording all the images to the main camera. JVC Everio Quad Proof cameras are shockproof when dropped from heights up to 5', waterproof to 16' below the waves, freezeproof down to 14°F, and dustproof. Sony offers its Handycam line of camcorders, with six HD models and four UHD (4K) models. On the novelty front, the Bell & Howell Rogue shoots HD in color, and has an IR night vision mode with IR LEDs, and if you are looking for a starter camcorder for children, Sakar has you covered with Hello Kitty and Frozen Pocket Digital camcorders. I can tell you that my daughter loved her Frozen video camera and, two years later, it still works.

Sakar Frozen Pocket Digital Camcorder

Professional

This category is dominated by Sony, Panasonic, and JVC, with each company offering more than twenty cameras each. Canon has 14 offerings, and Blackmagic Design offers only two camcorders that fit into this category, although as with the other companies, there are offerings that span other camera categories. Sony Professional Camcorders span the size range from small and compact, some with removable top handles with integrated XLR connectors, to full-size shoulder mounted camcorders with interchangeable lenses, including the HXR-MC2500, PWX-X320, PXW-X400, and PXW-X500. Panasonic Professional Camcorders also range from small and compact to shoulder mounted. Among the compact cameras, you can find the successor to the venerable DVX-100, the DVX-200. Not surprisingly, JVC also offers shoulder-mounted camcorders, as well as compact camcorders. One of JVC’s defining features is the built-in graphics overlays its compact camcorders offer, as well as cameras with streaming capabilities.

Sony HXR-MC2500 Shoulder Mount AVCHD Camcorder

Canon offers only small compact camcorders, and doesn’t offer any of the larger shoulder-mounted camcorders. Broken down into designations XA, XC, and XF, Canon still has a wide range of camcorders that shoot in HD and 4K. The XA11 is an HD-only camcorder with a detachable top handle that houses the XLR inputs and manual level control. The XC10 and XC15 are tiny, as far as camcorders go, both with a 1" CMOS sensor, integrated zoom lens, capable of shooting 4K. Canon’s XF series has been around long enough to go from the XF100/105 up to the XF705—which is available for pre-order. XF models up to XF300/XF305 are HD only and can record in MPEG 2, for easy integration with broadcast workflows. Starting with the XF400/XF405, each series has included 4K recording. Blackmagic Design’s URSA Broadcast camera features a 4K CMOS sensor, comes with a B4 mount, which might distinguish it as more of an ENG-type camera, and is also available as a kit with a lens. It is worth noting that we have tucked the URSA Mini Pro, which came after the URSA Broadcast camera and has an interchangeable Canon EF mount, neatly away in the Digital Cine Camera section or our website.

Blackmagic Design URSA Broadcast Camera

What to Get?

Well, I hope that I’ve given you enough to think about. If you have experience with any of these camcorders that you’d like to share, any favorite camcorders you’ve received as a gift—or bought yourself—or any questions you’d care to ask, please post them below, and happy holidays from the video experts at B&H.

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